July 613, 1995
A Tale of Two Hoagies
City Hoagie, Country Hoagie
By Holly Moore
Once upon a time the Philadelphia Airport area was known as Hog Island. Upon Hog Island some 34,000 workers built ships. The worker's wives packed hearty lunchessandwiches hollowed out from a loaf of fresh baked bread and filled with whatever makings were handy. These sandwiches came to be known as "Hoggies" which eventually evolved to Hoagie. Hog Island Foods owner Mark Schoenkopf (Restaurant School graduate who while there studied under that eminent restaurant business scholar, Professor Holly Moore), maintains that there are still neighborhoods in Southwest Philadelphia where hoagies are called hoggies.
"Hoagie myth!" decries food historian William Woys Weaver, author of numerous books on food and its heritagehis latest being Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking (Abbeville Press). The birth of the hoagie dates back to the 1880's and the first time Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore played in Philadelphia. Local bakers, to honor the occasion, created a sleek, ship-shaped roll called a Pinafore. Street vendors, known in the slang of the times as "Hokey Pokey" men, took to stuffing these rolls with antipasto salad. These sandwiches were called Hokey's, which South Philadelphians, as is their way, changed to hoagie.
Despite their intellectual disagreement as to the hoagie's origin, both Weaver and Schoenkopf do agree that the Hog Sandwich, served at Hog Island is quite similar to the original Hoggie/Hokey/hoagie.
All great hoagies start with great bread. Hog Island commissioned the Lanci Bakery to bake special hog rollsshorter and squatter than traditional hoagie rolls. One end of the roll is sliced off, set aside and the dough inside is scooped out, forming a pocket of bread.
The pocket is stuffed with the hoagie fixin's. I watched Hog Island build me an antipasti hog stuffed is the accurate verb. The sandwich man started as if tossing a salad. In a bowl he combined salami, ham and cappicola with roasted hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions, sharp provolone and romaine. Next he sprayed the salad with balsamic vinegar and squirted in a slurp of olive oil and sprinkled on some Parmesan cheese.
Ended up with a good size salad which he then crammed as tightly as possible into the hollowed out hog roll. Once the roll was packed as solid as possible, he capped it off with the inverted tip previously sliced from the roll. Nothing goes to waste. The bread that had been scooped out of the sandwich, in what I consider doughy excess, was served on the side with a couple of pats of butter.
My antipasti hog was a great tasting sandwich, a two-fisted sandwich; even a drip-proof, tidy sandwich. The inside of the bread nicely sops up the balsamic vinaigrette. I ate the whole sandwich without spilling a single drop on my shirta personal best. On the previous visit I tried the Italian Sausage Hog. Filled with sweet or hot sausage, roasted peppers, fried onions and sharp provolone, it's the closest I've come to replicating the favorite sandwich of my youth. There was a place in Denville, New Jersey called Pizza Mia, that used to saute sausage, potatoes, peppers and onions, and stuff it into half a loaf of round Italian Bread. They did the same with hot dogs. Wish they were still around.
Other hogs include roast beef, roast pork, regular and spicy (Cajun) grilled chicken breast, tuna salad, chicken and Caesar salad and pepper and cheese. Can personally vouch for the roast pork hog. Mark says that the spicy chicken hog is one of the best sellers.
Hog Island Foods, 246 South 11th Street, between Spruce and Locust, 627-7511. MondayThursday, 11 am9 pm, FridaySaturday, 11 am10 pm.
I think the best hoagie I've ever chomped came from Silvio's Deli in Hatboro. I've always credited them with building a great hoagie, but this one was special. Silvio's bakes their own rolls. Once, and only once, I got an Italian hoagie made with a roll hot from the oven. Cold, fresh hoagie makings and a warm hoagie rolla glorious hoagie.
Ever since, I request a warm roll; but, alas, it is not to be. Silvio's is always busy. Behind the counter as many as a dozen hoagie makers are plying their craft, keeping the line moving. Biggest seller is the Italian Hoagie. Silvio, who has since passed away, wanted to build his Italian Hoagie a little differently. Didn't use any prosciutto or cooked salami, just Genoa Salami and Capicolla.
Wife Susan and son Steve are now running the business. I ask Steve what's so special about the bread. "We do everything by hand. Four bakers start early in the morning, finish baking around 2 in the afternoon. The rolls are kneaded, rolled and cut by hand. No fancy recipe, just flour, salt,water and yeast."
While I was talking to Steve, a guy ordered a dozen hoagies to bring with him to Nashville. Silvio's hoagies have pretty much traveled the world except England: A customer shipped a batch to friends in London. They were turned away at customs. I could have told them that would happen. Anyone knows they don't allow good food in England.
Silvio's Deli, 100 North York Road, Hatboro, PA, 674-8843. MondayThursday, 9 am to 6 pm, Friday 9 am to 8 pm, Saturday 9 am to 4 pm.
Melange: This morning, breakfasting at the Down Home Diner in Reading Terminal Market, I watched a mother teach her son how to put ketchup on his hashed browns. A great family tradition moves to the next generation.